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Why The Mint Julep Makes For Such A Winning Cocktail

Julep featured

Winners’ podiums at major sporting events around the globe often culminate in the joyous uncorking of a Champagne magnum, as athletes celebrate their hard-earned victory. At one event, however, it’s a different spirit — or should we say cocktail — that takes centrestage.

Considered one of the most prestigious horse racing events in the world, the Derby held in Kentucky, USA, has long had an association with the Mint Julep. The julep wasn’t always consumed in the form it is today. Much like gin, it too was considered medicinal, historically. Some uncertainty surrounds its exact origins: While it certainly has a deep connection with the American South — both as a matter of place and history — the julep’s roots can be traced back to a Persian drink that comprised water redolent with rose petals.

An American Icon

By 1803, the julep had made its first appearance in print, in America. An Englishman’s travelogue, recording his travels through the States on the very cusp of the 19th century, mentions the julep by name. He references its role as a “morning constitutional” among the residents of Virginia, and notes the steeping of copious quantities of mint in it. The “julep” that this writer would have tried may not necessarily have been made with bourbon. Instead, spirits like brandy and even gin would have been commonplace. But by 1908, the form that it is consumed in at the Derby – replete with the iconic silver cup — was widely accepted.

Mint juleps

In addition to the aforementioned mint and bourbon, the julep also contains syrup, water and plenty of crushed ice (one historical account advises that the ice be “pulverised to the fineness of snow”). It’s a cool drink to enjoy on a hot day spent outdoors, as racehorses thunder past on the tracks. Small wonder then, that close to 1,20,000 juleps are sold on race day.

More Than Mint

Beyond the Derby, mint juleps lend themselves well to other fresh, tart flavours. Think: strawberry, pineapple, cherries and peach. A simple addition of honey can also work wonders and create a whole new type of julep. While you may not be in Kentucky to try the original julep, you can always mix a cup for your guests while hosting a gathering at home — either the classic mint version or any of these variations mentioned above. We particularly enjoy a version that uses Buchanan’s Black & White Blended Scotch Whisky in place of bourbon: the sharp grain and sour citrus aroma (with a touch of peat, and biscuit!), along with the caramel sweetness of its finish, make it a wonderful partner to the mint. 

Incidentally, the story goes that James Buchanan was returning home from a dog show when he conceived the idea for his iconic whisky brand, and the two adorable dogs on the label (a Scottie and a Westie) are seemingly a nod to this lore. From dogs to horses, we’ll admit it’s quite a journey-in-a-julep-cup for this fine spirit to make! 

Mint representational image

Make Your Own

Okay, onwards to the practical side of things — how do you make a “James Julep”? The lovely part about the drink is that you can mix it directly in a julep cup, thus limiting the use of too much barware that later requires clean-up.

Ingredients:

Black & White Whisky, 60 ml

Mint leaves, 6 nos. 

Sugar, 1 tbsp

Method:

Tap the mint leaves gently and add to the julep cup. 

Next, add the sugar and pour in the Black & White Whisky. Stir with a bar spoon until the sugar dissolves completely.

To serve, add crushed ice to the cup, stir gently once more, and finish with a mint sprig as the garnish. Enjoy responsibly